Advertisement

Q. Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

By Joyce Hendley, September/October 2007

Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

A. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that’s found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose—so chemically, it’s virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with “toxic waste” when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS—but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you’ve doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar or an equivalent amount of honey.

Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn’t lie just with HFCS. Rather, it’s the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the “natural” sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. “They all have the same caloric effects as sugar,” he explains. “I don’t care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is ‘none of the above.’”

At EatingWell, it’s our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum—and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Did you know?

The corn syrup found on supermarket shelves is only a distant cousin to the high-fructose corn syrup used commercially. Both start by processing corn starch with enzymes and/or acids, but the HFCS process is much more complex and results in a different chemical structure.

Download a Free Cookbook with Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I have to say this is interesting, I noticed after I graduated high school in 1987 I began to have seizures.
I still had the same diet and doctors put me on different meds that really did no good. Roughly 11 years later in 1998 I recall an accident I had in West Virginia early in the morning leaving a motel with my children in the backseat. I just called my mother and told her we were on our way home to Connecticut.I. just finished drinking a pepsi for the caffiene and less than thirty minutes later I passed out at the wheel. I
Hit a jersey barrier and woke up three minutes later with my children standing outside with a man who stopped to help me. Everytime I drank a softdrink I would get a slight lighthead ad sometimes I would just go take a nap. In 1999 my mother and I investigated natural foods diets and natural medicine. I sometimes slipped away but in 2009 I became very overweight and ill and lost my job but sought the help of the religious community I belonged to,where I learned that pretty much everything we eat must be cooked from scratch or is approved to be eaten for health or medicinal benefits. I weighed 238lbs in 2009 when I completely went by the religious dietary laws I lost 40 lbs in 18 months. Most of the food we eat does not contain high fructose corn syrup. I pretty much gave up soda a long time ago and drink tea or other drinks
I mix with sugar or honey. When I shop I have to read the label.

Anonymous

10/15/2012 - 5:16pm

Nothing is healthier, as far as sweeteners, than honey, followed by non-refined sugar from cane.

Economic interest is not a good guidline to nutrition, nor to health.

The stomach IS NOT a microscope.

Anonymous

10/21/2012 - 9:39pm

Is it true that it sits as fat and never goes away? I hear that high fructose corn syrup is cheaper that real sugar so many companies use it instead.

Anonymous

10/30/2012 - 4:57pm

i was told this hfcs was very bad for diabetics. is this true or just eat normally with it?

Anonymous

11/01/2012 - 1:50pm

I have to agree with one poster. Stop buying things that have chemicals. If you don't know how to stop eating from the frozen food section, or canned & bagged items, learn how to cook. Cooking rice from scratch is this hard: boil double the water for the amount of rice you will be cooking. Add rice to boiling water. Add salt or seasoning if desired. Turn temperature so rice simmers (#2 or #3 on your stove knob).
Cover. Twenty minutes later...done! You can jazz it up with a recipe, or add your own stuff to it! Vegetables, seasoning, etc. You can also use millet, or barley, as a rice substitute, or even wheat berries. Forget reheating beans from a bag. They too, offer idiot proof cooking (easy). Buy a meat thermometer and make your own. If you don't want to prepare more foods healthily, then expect to always be consuming chemicals, sugars, etc. If you eliminate sugar, as well as the MASSIVE amounts of sodium (salt) that is added, which, by the way in recent years has ALSO been linked to diabetes and major health issues. you will find VERY LITTLE on your supermarket shelves, anyway!

My young 12 year old daughter was diagnosed with high blood pressure. She was 20 pounds overweight, and we had to change her diet. I no longer go to any fast food restaurants, I prepare dishes from scratch because it allows ME to control sugar and salt, and I have found a wealth of other seasonings that replace salt. We make sure there is fresh food. Since my kids were born, I have never kept soda in the house, or even juices. We have lowfat milk and lots if ice cold water in the fridge. Parents: if your child doesn't like water, keep it in the fridge. My kids hardly ever drank water. Then I bought a Brita filter, and a 1-1/2 gallon container. I keep that in the fridge and they drink water now like it's going out of style.

So try it. Sodium and sugar are loaded into most prepared foods in the Supermarket (even bargain meats! I purchased the no name brand chicken breasts from Wal-Mart. Along with being packed with 15% solution, the solution added 400 mg sodium to the chicken breasts! To the lady having seizures and thinks it's the sugar, I may respectfully add she should watch her sodium.

WE ALL HAVE A CHOICE. It's liberating to take it. If you want to be healthy, you have got to stop making supermarket prepared foods your staple.

Anonymous

11/05/2012 - 10:11am

I know this is a very old article but I could not resist leaving a comment. My background and education is in plant biochemistry and genetics. Just to clear up what fructose and sucrose (sugar) is. Fructose is one of the most common forms of sugars on the planet occurring in all plants. It is on the human palette one of the sweetest tasting sugars leading easily to its use in pop drinks. This increased sweetness does not make it any more harmful than regular table sugar nor does is make it any greater in calorie content and no sugar contains any form of fat. Sugar of all kinds is the easiest to utilize form of food energy for the body and if the body consumes too much sugar it simply creates fat to store this excess energy. Sucrose(table sugar) is composed of one unit of glucose and one unit of fructose. Sucrose actually has a greater caloric content than fructose as it is larger molecule with more chemical bonds meaning it has more energy to release. HFCS became very commonly used in the US because of its availability and cost effectiveness. The cost effectiveness, meaning its cheapness, is cause by a tariff imposed by the US government on importing table sugar driving up the cost of table sugar. The other factor for the cheapness of corn syrup is the massive quatity of corn grown in the US. The US is by far and away the larges producer of corn with the "cornbelt" states alone producing more corn than the rest of the world combined.
People like to find somthing to blame for their current problems and if the US was not using and HFCS then people would be blaming table sugar for the current problems of obesety and other related ailments. The root of these problems is simply over-consumption and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

This is just my two cents.

Anonymous

11/12/2012 - 3:20am

I have just watched a vid about HFCS, the report was over an our long from a Professor of Biology, he was addressing a class of graduates. The report states quite categorically that the liver cannot process much of HFCS and it is seen as a toxin that our metabolism can't deal with. The evidence seems overwhelming and it is only the power of money that prevents it from being outlawed. What's new though ????

Anonymous

11/13/2012 - 12:28pm

I cannot recall ever seeing children in a restaurant drinking milk. It is normally some kind of large soda with their non vegetable meal. Why shouldn't we have a childhood obesity epidemic? I suspect that if all soda was illegal, our health would improve. And to think of schools even letting that stuff into the premises. If high fructose corn syrup is ubicquitose, just read about asparteme and all it's health implecations.

Anonymous

11/22/2012 - 5:22pm

This whole feed I have to question. My good friens is a nutrituonist & says hfcs is infact not digestible by humans & stores fat like no other, not to mention the over consumption rate.

Anonymous

11/25/2012 - 2:33pm

there is high fructose corn syrup in everything!!!! why?

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 6:45pm

more smart savings
Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner